PERC is launching its first thematic series, which will explore the phenomenon of Silicon Valley ideology. Each week for the next two months, experts from the fields of political economy, political science, economic history, cultural studies and law will share their research perspectives on the recent trends that have animated the Silicon Valley bubble.


2022 has been a turbulent year for Silicon Valley, leading to pointed interrogations about whether this period marks the end of its “golden era”. Some of its most emblematic tech companies, including Meta, Apple and Amazon, have experienced important drops in their market value after announcing disappointing earnings. Freezing of new hires and dramatic lay-off plans at Snapchat followed. Their difficulties run alongside the sharp market crash of cryptocurrencies, with Bitcoin, for example, losing 70% of its value between November 2021 and September 2022. Regularly undermined by the revelations of former employees about dubious practices relating to users’ privacy and well-being, Silicon Valley’s dominant tech companies must now deal with the US Congress’ increasing appetite for reigning in Big Tech and breaking up its enormous market power through anti-monopoly legislation. After years of widespread union-busting carried out with near-total impunity, businesses like Amazon are also being challenged by the mobilisation of their workers and the creation of new unions.

Yet, despite the Valley’s economic downturn and growing unease with Big Tech’s monopolistic powers and its lack of respect for privacy rights and workers’ rights, the Silicon Valley ideology – the post-‘dotcom bubble’ inheritor of the ‘Californian Ideology’, characterised by its heterogeneous mix of techno-optimism, entrepreneurial zeal and libertarianism – persists. This is in part thanks to the power and influence that public figures like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Peter Thiel have accrued. While clearly their stars have recently lost some of their shine and while they might not benefit from the same complacent news coverage as they did in the past, these businessmen still have managed to turn their entrepreneurial success stories into a personal brand. They have become staples of pop culture, incarnations of the mythical ‘founder’ – a label reverently described in Forbes as carrying “connotations of creativity and innovation, determination, native intelligence, and a sense of fearlessness”.

Yet, far from limiting themselves to the loving gaze of aspiring young entrepreneurs or to Saturday Night Live, they have recently embarked on a journey to convert their stratospheric fortunes into political influence – either by buying news outlets (as Jeff Bezos has done with the Washington Post) or entire social media platforms (as Elon Musk has coveted with Twitter), or by launching their supporters into the Senate race (like Peter Thiel with former employees and MAGA-supporters, J.D. Vance and Blake Masters). In the long run, such initiatives will enable these controversial figures to further burrow their libertarian (and in Thiel’s case, neo-reactionary) worldviews into political discourse. Such trends call for urgent reflection on the inner (material, ideological and fantasmatic) workings of Silicon Valley. This first PERC series contributes to this work by bringing together authors who have recently written on contemporary developments in Silicon Valley.


Since the collapse of the dotcom bubble in 2000, Silicon Valley has been the centre of important technological mutations, such as the development of the platform economy, cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. The contributions in this series offer critical insights into these innovations so as to better assess them. Will Davies (Goldsmiths, PERC) compares platforms as a business model defended by Silicon Valley tycoons like Peter Thiel with neoliberal theory’s constructivist vision of the market as a “system of telecommunication” so as to reflect on the network effects and monopolistic tendencies of platforms, as well as their world-shaping abilities.

Harrison Smith (University of Sheffield) examines the ‘metaverse rush’ that has taken hold in Silicon Valley – as recently illustrated by Facebook’s rebranding into Meta. Far from being an exception, Facebook’s odd celebration of the metaverse marks increasing efforts by tech companies to guarantee their brand’s presence on and control over this virtual universe. How can political economists understand the collective mobilisation of capital around an environment that is still very much in its infancy and might very well turn out to be yet another castle in the sky?

Matthew Dylag (Dalhousie University) reflects on the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning by assessing the increasing use of “predictive opinion” software, like California-based Lex Machina, in the justice sector. What is AI believed to bring to democratic governance and what are its potential dangers? Can it be regulated, as currently attempted by the European Commission, or will its subjection to democratic oversight require more robust and confrontational methods?

The last three contributions delve further into the fantasies that pervade the Silicon Valley ideology. As Emily K. Crandall (City University of New York), Rachel H. Brown (Washington University, St. Louis) and John McMahon (SUNY Plattsburgh) write, part of Silicon Valley’s attractiveness lies in its tycoons’ magical promises, in their grandiose claims to be able to solve all of humanity’s problems through technology combined with their exhortations to “do what you love”. While debate over the capacity of technology to save or doom humanity is not new, attention to the ways the work ethic – let alone actual material practices of labour – is rendered in Silicon Valley’s discourse of itself is critical for assessing the capacity of the Valley to make good on its promises. Thinking through critical approaches to work alongside Silicon Valley and its magnates reveals how central a conventional, exploitative work ethic is to its civilization-saving mission.

Ben Little (University of East Anglia) & Alison Winch (Goldsmiths) revisit Gerard O’Neil’s 1970s book The High Frontier to examine how the very language that the Princeton physicist used in the book is repeated almost verbatim by Jeff Bezos and mirrors the corporate philosophy, not just of his space company Blue Origin, but also of Amazon. By discussing O’Neil’s legacy in other Silicon Valley space ventures, like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Little and Winch reflect on the ways contemporary imaginaries of space exploration embed a corporation-first political economy that locates its legitimacy in the mythologisation of the American frontier, with its promises of great wealth and freedom.

Lastly, Carla Ibled (University of East Anglia and Goldsmiths, PERC) pursues this reflection on space exploration by focusing on the crusade for the commercialisation of space led in coordination by Silicon Valley space barons and neoliberal conservative think-tanks, like the Cato Institute. On top of revealing clear synergies between the seemingly aspiring discourses of men like Elon Musk and the rhetoric of ultra-libertarian think-tanks, these calls for introducing private property in space stand as a coordinated attack against one of the last commons of humanity, as guaranteed by international law under the provisions of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. They are also representative of both sets of actors’ tendencies to present privatised space escapism as the revolutionary means of settling environmental problems without altering the current dynamics of capitalism.

Although each of these contributions brings a distinct disciplinary perspective, the series as a whole is structured around two broad intersecting axes. The first ambition of the series is to provide critical reflections on recent – technological, ideological – trends that have taken hold in the Silicon Valley bubble, with the view of assessing the potential challenges they might represent for democratic governance. These challenges are of course multifaceted. Some are related to the concrete functioning of the technologies designed in Silicon Valley. One can, for instance, mention the opacity and discriminatory biases of algorithms, as well as the way they frame, and thus necessarily restrict, individual choices and liberties. Another cause for concern is the anti-equalitarian, libertarian and neo-reactionary political discourse of central figures like Musk and Thiel. Considering the virtually unlimited financial means of these capitalists and their global visibility, how and in what ways can they intervene in socio-political debates and what will these interventions lead to?

The second ambition of the series is to enquire into the ways Silicon Valley functions as a dream factory. It produces self-serving myths that further consolidate and justify its ideological domination, like the myth of the heroic ‘founder’ I mentioned above. Silicon Valley’s fantasy machine feeds on the promises it creates. It promises to give its customers the means of doing what they love, or of living a free and decentralised life through algorithms, blockchains or homesteading; it promises to save humanity from the different threats that lurk over it. But the machine also borrows from other collective imaginaries – like myths of the American frontier, belief in the omniscience of AI, or a cybernetic vision of politics – that frame the way the actors of Silicon Valley see the world and attempt to transform it. Our conviction is that deconstructing and anatomising these different myths and promises will contribute to weaken their fantasmatic grip.


The series is conceived as open-ended, and we will keep welcoming new contributions and responses coming from all academic and non-academic backgrounds (including students’ contributions). If you wish to get involved or would like to pitch an idea for a contribution, get in touch with our editor Carla Ibled (c.ibled[at]

The series is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (no. ES/X007359/1) and the South East Network for Social Sciences (SeNSS).